The NHL is a pretty exciting place nowadays. It's now a faster and more skillful brand of hockey as the number of fights has gone way down, to the point where the role of the enforcer has been almost completely phased out. Teams simply can't afford to have a pylon out there on the fourth line anymore. Referees very rarely receive any praise, but we have to give credit where it's due. They have done a great job at limiting senseless scrums and acts of intimidation as they will oftentimes pick the most active player in the tussle and put him in the penalty box. It's certainly a refreshing style of hockey and one where only the skilled can thrive
Having said all that...do you ever notice how certain NHL players seemingly forget how to play hockey overnight? The drop in play is sometimes very sudden and it seems random but there are usually reasons for the player's decline. Injuries oftentimes play a factor as well as father time. As we will see there are also examples of players who don't train all that hard and rely heavily on their natural ability. As these players age, the decline is painful and evident because they're not putting in the work that's needed to compete at the highest level. Hey, we're not going to pretend that we have all the answers here. Some players just seem jinxed and are destined for failure.
Many teams think that they can "make something" out of these players or hope that they can rekindle some old magic but it is usually not the case. For example, how many times is Scott Gomez going to get "1 last chance" before teams finally take a hint? Spoiler alert: "Gomer" will not crack this list as everyone knows that his run in the league is just about done. We're going to focus more on people that are flying under the old radar.
Let's get this list started! Here are the top 15 NHL players whose careers seem doomed.
15 Cody Hodgson
Hodgson entered the league with a ton of steam. He was selected 10th by the Vancouver Canucks in the 2008 NHL Draft and ripped it up with the 2009 Team Canada World Junior team en route to a gold medal win. Some red flags went up when the Canucks basically gave up on him in 2012 and didn't even get much in return (Zack Kassian, another player that is currently having issues, to put it mildly). Hodgson looked like he was finally turning himself into a credible 2nd liner when he registered 34 points in 48 games in the 2012-2013 season but has progressively fizzled every season since then. He's currently having a dreadful season with the Nashville Predators and seems to be on his way out.
14 Cam Ward
Ward was regarded as one of the best goaltenders in the league for a long time. Anytime it was discussed as to which goalies should represent Team Canada, Ward's name was always in the mix, and he also won a Stanley cup at the ripe age of 21. This isn't a case of "what have you done for me lately?" Ward has been very mediocre for a long time now. He hasn't seen post-season action since 2009 and has posted some less than stellar stats since then. His numbers have clearly dipped and that's also due in part to injuries. He only played 17 games in the (shortened due to lockout) 2012-2013 season and 30 games the following year. It's tough to maintain quality of play when constantly battling injuries. Ward hasn't seemed to regain his form this season either as he's currently sporting a .900 save percentage, which is simply not good enough for a starter.
13 Jarret Stoll
Mr. Stoll is known for his incredibly hot girlfriend, the ravishing Erin Andrews. He is also known for showing up at a pool party in Vegas with cocaine and molly on him, and happily agreed to let security frisk him even though he had drugs on him! (I guess he figured anything goes in Vegas). Unfortunately, neither of these reasons of notoriety have anything to do with his play on the ice. Stoll has been incredibly useless in the last few seasons, to the point where the Rangers simply told him to "take a hike" this year. As of this moment, he is probably on his last lifeline with the Minnesota Wild.
12 Ryan Kesler
Kesler was a fantastic hockey player (just ask him, he'll tell you). In his heyday with the Canucks, he was a constant scoring threat when on the ice and he also had a knack for scoring big goals at pivotal moments. Fast forward to 2016, at only 31 years old, it certainly looks like he's on the "back 9." His play has dropped significantly and he is visibly missing that extra jump in his step. Anaheim figured they were adding the missing piece in building a Stanley cup winner, but were sorely mistaken. Kesler only put up 20 goals last year, which is a far cry from his 41 goal season in 2010-2011. Currently, Kesler is stinking it up with the rest of the Ducks. Kesler put a lot of mileage on his body during the Canucks playoff run in 2011 and has never really looked the same since then. The outlook is bleak.
11 Jarred Tinordi
Alright Habs fans, don't lose your minds here (at least read, then lose your mind). The whole Tinordi experience has not gone well. He went from the second coming of Larry Robinson, to a #8 defenseman with no value. The Habs would like nothing more than to have a 6'6 defenseman (that can handle himself too) in the lineup. He's just simply not good enough right now. Think about it, two years ago when Nathan Beaulieu and Tinordi were battling for a roster spot, Beaulieu beat him to it. He then had an opportunity to win a spot again, but Greg Pateryn outplayed him. This season the exact same thing is happening as he's being sat in favour of Mark Barberio. It's basically "anybody but Tinordi" at this point. He's also passed the point of being considered a prospect as he will turn 24 years old next month. It's just not going to work out.
10 Jordan Staal
Pittsburgh did Staal "a solid" when they traded him to Carolina. Had he remained a Penguin, he would have been stuck in a third line role for the rest of his career because he would always be behind Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on the depth chart. It was also an opportunity to go play with his brother Eric. Despite his limited ice time, he remarkably managed to get 50 points in 62 games in the 2011-2012 season. The Hurricanes figured that with more ice time, and a more prominent role, those numbers would only increase. Sadly for Staal and the Canes, his totals did just the opposite.
It was a situation where Carolina thought they were stealing a superstar stuck in a third line role but little did they know, they'd actually be receiving a third liner. For whatever reason, Staal has been a shell of his former self.
9 Alexander Semin
Here we have Montreal's 2nd disaster of an acquisition. To be fair, this one was very low risk and it's not like they lost a player to acquire Semin's crappy services. He's notoriously been billed a player that simply does not care. No, for real, his former teammate Matt Bradley actually used those words: "he just doesn't care."
Bradley is likely correct in his assertion, but there has to be more to it than that. Even in Washington when he "didn't care," he still managed to put up 40 goals in 2010. When Semin, Ovechkin, and Backstrom hopped the boards, their speed was down right scary. Fast forward to 2015-16 and Semin looks like one of the slowest players on the ice. Sure, he doesn't care, but he never cared and it is now clear that his NHL days are likely done.
8 Dany Heatley
What in the blue hell happened to Dany Heatley? Sherlock Holmes couldn't even crack this mysterious case as it seems like Heatley simply forgot how to play hockey. He went from one of the league's most prolific scorers to a healthy scratch in no time and is the poster boy of a player that simply "lost his touch." Even in his demotions to the AHL last season, he barely produced at all. There were no suitors for his services this year and was forced to play overseas in Germany for the Nuermberg Thomas Sabo Ice Tigers in the DEL (we have no idea what that league is either). Derek Joslin, Patric Reimer and former NHL'er Steven Reinprecht all currently have more points than Heatley. It's safe to say his NHL career is doomed.
7 Michael Ryder
Ryder had a fairly good and lengthy career, and was a dependable contributor. But his game was very easy to pick apart. He didn't back check, he was always behind the play due to his poor foot speed. Most games you could stow an egg in his pants and not worry about it getting cracked because his hits were very few and far between. Alright, we're being hard on the poor Newfoundlander. Despite all these flaws, he still managed to put the puck in the net consistently. The problem was that once his production dropped, he really had no other qualities to offer a team due to his defensive deficiencies. He is currently still waiting for the phone to ring.
6 Mike Richards
Mike Richards is a 2-time Stanley Cup champion and an Olympic gold medalist. He just signed with Capitals on a one-year contract, but it's impossible to gauge how much he has in the tank. His play steadily dropped over the years but he was still a dependable checking line player and would stick up for his teammates as he'd oftentimes take on guys way out of his weight class. It all seemed to come to a screeching halt last season when he got demoted to the AHL and had a tumultuous off season to boot. He got charged with drug possession after he tried to cross the Canadian boarder with oxycodone on him. Richards' case is different than Jarret Stoll's as Stoll was caught with "party drugs" for recreational use while Richards seems to be in physical pain. We're not condoning drug use, but the constant pain is likely the main reason for the drop in his play.
5 Ilya Bryzgalov
Philly thought they were finally going to solve their goaltending woes when they signed Bryzgalov to a 9-year 51 million dollar deal in 2011. His tenure with the Flyers was interesting, to say the least. He absolutely stole the show in the 2012 24/7 HBO series as he coined the term: "the solar system is so huMANGous big." Unfortunately, his play on the ice was not as spectacular as he used the quote: "I am terrible" to describe his play at one point. Paul Holmgren and the Flyers had no choice but to buy-out the rest of his contract. He went on to have brief stints in Edmonton, Minnesota, and Anaheim but couldn't find any suitors for this season.
4 Zack Kassian
Zack Kassian was involved in a trade this summer that landed him in Montreal in exchange for Brandon Prust. Habs fans were hopeful because the team has been undersized for years, and Kassian was a big strong winger that could fill a hole on the third line. Before the season even started, Kassian's car (he was in the passenger seat) was involved in an accident. It was discouraging but didn't seem like that big a deal on the surface as NHL players have done far worse and been forgiven. But Kassian was promptly placed in rehab and was "thrown under the bus" by Marc Bergevin and Michel Therrien for his irresponsible behaviour. He was also placed on waivers 20 minutes after being dismissed from rehab.
This leads us to believe that there has to be more to the story that is being hidden from the public. The organization flat out refused to have Kassian anywhere near the Canadiens or their AHL affiliate. 28 other teams also passed up on him when he was placed on waivers, until he was finally picked up by Edmonton. It's going to be a long road back for Kassian.
3 Phil Kessel
It's now officially time to rag on everyone's favorite whipping boy, Mr. Phil "coach killer" Kessel. Some people are for sure sitting here saying: "this doesn't make sense, Kessel is good for 30 goals a year, what's this lowly writer's problem?". This is true, while Kessel has a pathetic work ethic and resembles the Pillsbury Doughboy, he does have tremendous talent. This issue is not what Kessel brings to a team, it's what he takes away from it.
His former coach (Ron Wilson) billed him as "uncoachable." Wilson isn't exactly going to win any popularity contests either, but the facts seem to support his claim. Kessel is currently on his fourth coach (3 of them getting fired) in a calendar year and has somehow made the Penguins worse. There's clearly friction with him and his teammates as he's constantly getting the "stink-eye" from Evgeni Malkin when something goes wrong, and was even caught mouthing off with Sidney Crosby during a play. Let's not forget, Boston simply gave up on Kessel earlier in his career for the exact same reasons. Is his 30 goals really worth the headache? Any team he joins certainly seems doomed.
2 David Clarkson
David Clarkson was looked at as the most coveted unrestricted free agent in the 2013 offseason. Never have we seen a team so eager to acquire a player and then so eager to get rid of him in a little over a year. Clarkson was supposed to be a physical power forward that could occasionally put the puck in the net and also drop the mitts when needed. Unfortunately for Toronto (and now Columbus), Clarkson was a ghost out there and didn't provide any of this. Well, that's not entirely true. He did drop the mitts one time in a preseason game in an attempt to go after John Scott which resulted in him getting suspended for 4 games because he came off the bench to enter the melee. Even his good intentions resulted in failure.
1 Jeff Skinner
While it's been a joy to poke fun at the likes of Phil Kessel, Ilya Bryzgalov, and David Clarkson, Skinner's case is a very sad one. At only 23 years old, he has already suffered 3 concussions. In layman's terms, a concussion is not like a broken bone in a sense that it gets stronger once it heels. Once someone is concussed, it gets easier and easier for it to happen again as it's a cumulative effect on the brain. It's always a good story when a player comes back from a concussion and doesn't lose a step, Patrice Bergeron comes to mind. But there's also examples like Marc Savard and Chris Pronger where they are still struggling with everyday life.
There's no doubt, Skinner can still play in the league but how much more of a pounding can his head take? His numbers have declined and analysts like Pierre McGuire maintain that he looks timid out there. There's some question marks going forward, and we do hope his career is not doomed although the evidence supports the contrary.